After the backlash over her Ghost in the Shell casting, you would think Scarlett Johnasson might be a little more careful when selecting and accepting future roles. Apparently not. It was announced this week that the cisgender actress would be taking on the role of a transgender man in the upcoming film Rub & Tug.
The role in question is that of real-life Pittsburgh crime boss Dante “Rex” Gill who ran a chain of massage parlours as a front for a prostitution ring in the 1970s. Gill was born Lois Jean Gill but identified as a man and asked people to call him “Mr. Gill.” His 2003 obituary states that “she may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made her appear masculine.”
The backlash for Johansson taking the role that could have gone to an actual transgender man was quick.
there are literally so many trans actors that could’ve been cast in this role. why do we keep casting Scarlett Johansson in roles where she doesn’t fit the criteria? https://t.co/nnD7PKH5Gc
— anthony amorim is lo:st (@AnthonyAmorim) July 3, 2018
Yeah, I’m gonna avoid Scarlett Johansson movies moving forward after her response. Even if this topic were complex (and it’s not: trans people should play trans people), flippantly dismissing concerns over this new role really says a lot about her views regarding trans people.
— Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) July 3, 2018
It’s almost like Hollywood doesn’t care about giving trans actors the opportunity to portray trans people in movies. Unless Scarlett Johansson is coming out as a trans man? https://t.co/tVvHy5Ew3N
— Zack Ford (@ZackFord) July 3, 2018
People were also quick to point out that Rub & Tug is set to be directed by Rupert Sanders — the very same director who was accused of whitewashing for casting Johansson as an Asian character in The Ghost in the Shell. Begging the question: if you make the same mistake twice, is it really a mistake?
scarlett johansson is gonna work with the ghost in the shell director AGAIN but this time she’s gonna play a trans man pic.twitter.com/G9BrZLbedF
— maría (@brujasescarlata) July 3, 2018
The weirdest part to me is that the director was heavily criticised for white washing when it came to casting Scarlett Johansson as Motoko.
Not only does he make a similar mistake here but it’s with the same actor. How do you blatantly make the same mistake twice?
— Crow (@GregorArnott) July 3, 2018
even worse, both Johansson and Weisz are producers on those projects. both biopics *deeply* misunderstand trans history, positioning trans men as defiant cis women in male-dom industries. that’s not their story! and it takes up space from stories that are actually about women!
— e. oliver whitney (@cinemabite) July 3, 2018
In response to the controversy, Johansson was defiant. She doubled down on her choice to take the role and deflected by directing critics to take up their complaints with other cis actors who have played transgender characters. Her argument highlights one of the main issues with the way Hollywood represents minorities — they don’t. The real root of the issue is that marginalized groups are rarely permitted to tell their own stories and are often blocked out of Hollywood altogether (for a deep-dive on that, check out Bustle‘s take).
Scarlett Johansson had to know there would be justified pushback on her playing a trans man in a new movie. But WOW at this “update.”
Is she insinuating her right to a play a trans man is a White Feminist™ issue bc cis white actors have played trans women? I’m disgusted. pic.twitter.com/V0a43UAJu5
— Kevin Allred (@KevinAllred) July 3, 2018
Some commentators have come out in defense of Johansson, making the counterargument that if only transgender actors can take on transgender roles, that implies that LGBT actors cannot take on straight roles and that actors can only play parts that they align with perfectly in race, gender, sexuality, etc. The argument overlooks the fact that minorities have historically been underrepresented and whitewashed in media with very little progress toward adequate representation.
People also pushed back against the defense by pointing out that casting a woman in drag as a transgender man oversimplifies the trans experience. It reduces the complexity of gender identity and shows little respect for the real-life person who wished to be known as a man.
Not really sure why Scarlett Johansson playing a trans individual is a problem. If people can only play roles that represent them, LGBT actors will have a lot less roles.
— Sid Woodram (@SWoodram) July 3, 2018
Trans people are literally killed because of the notion that they’re “not really a man” or “not really a woman”. So having a man play a trans woman or a woman play a trans man perpetuates this idea that trans people aren’t who they say they are.
Trans people die because of this.
— Alison (@MommaAlison) July 4, 2018
Scarlett Johansson has proven time again that she is not much of an ally when it gets in the way of her personal advancement. I hope this new movie will be rewarded in the same way as GitS – mediocre reviews and a box office failure.
— Hanna Ines Flint (@HannaFlint) July 3, 2018